Thoughts I Think About Rants, False Ghettos, and Misinformation Surrounding the Gay Romance Market
Mercury is retrograde, and so we are all writing and saying and misinterpreting and in general making ourselves and each other upset. This post is one of today’s offerings. (ETA: post appears to have been taken down, but of course there is a screenshot.) Wave at at Reviews by Jessewave is upset because books are submitted for review that contain on-screen heterosexual sex. “Graphic het sex” to quote accurately. This site has made it plain they don’t care for anything but romances featuring sexual contact between two males, and yes, there’s a case here for free speech, personal prerogative, and so on. Anyone has a right to be as broad or narrow in their tastes as they choose. I have no issue there. I might disagree with the tactic, but to each her own, mazel tov, etc.
This, though, I’m taking issue with.
Why are M/M readers treated so disdainfully? Are we not on par with het romance readers? M/M romance has been around for a decade, so why can’t our authors get it right? Clearly we are not respected because if we were this wouldn’t happen, and so often. Would authors insert graphic gay sex scenes in het romances? Not f*****g likely, unless the book is a ménage or a bi romance, and do you know why? Two reasons:
1) They know that het romance readers would not tolerate this and would tell them to put their book where the sun doesn’t shine; and
2) They respect het romance readers so it wouldn’t even occur to them to include gay sex in a het romance. Definitely a double standard.
(The ***** are quotes. I would have cussed.)
For reference before I respond I need to quote this too:
Turn this beat around and do this in het romances and you will get an earful and an angry uprising from your fans because het romance readers wouldn’t tolerate gay men screwing their brains out or other body parts in their romances.
And from comment 8.1, the big, BIG important one:
We have reviewed many M/M romances with het side romances where the sex is not explicit. What we don’t review is M/M romances with full on page het explicit sex (oral, vaginal or anal). I think you will find that any het romance review site would not review books that contain explicit gay sex unless that site also reviews the entire range of erotic romances.
There’s a lot here. Let’s start with the easy misdirect.
Blogs and review sites which review primarily “het romance” do review romances with gay male (and lesbian and bisexual and transgender) romantic leads. I suppose these sites do review erotic romances as well, but it’s absolutely not their focus. Pretty much anywhere that’s a serious, big-time review site? They’re reviewing all flavors of the orientation rainbow.
I write gay heroes, and I have been reviewed in Romantic Times Magazine and The Library Journal, which are incredibly mainstream review sites. The Library Journal in particular is notable because this is the source, as one might assume, from which many librarians take their cue for orders. I’ve been reviewed in many other places as well: USA Today did a lightning review of Dance With Me on the Happily Ever After blog. I’ve been reviewed multiple times at Dear Author, and I’ve been reviewed with Marie Sexton at Smart Bitches Trashy Books, and Marie has been reviewed there twice. SBTB has reviewed several lesbian romances too. K.A. Mitchell has been reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly, which in case you didn’t know is seriously a fucking coup. She’s also been featured in Kirkus via Sara Wendell. K.A. Mitchell has won the reviewing Internet.
I’m a little afraid, frankly, to list all the not-exclusively gay romance blogs I’ve been reviewed at because I fear forgetting one. There have been a lot. You can go to my website and read them all. If you haven’t heard of some of them, you should check them out. Many, many wonderful offerings there. You can also plug in all their websites into the Alexa search tool and see their comparative web scores. I don’t have the full science on it, but I know it’s how publicists check ranks of blogs and review sites. Go ahead and plug in your favorites and see how they stack up.
A sampling of US scores (the lower the better):
Dear Author: 16,958
Smart Bitches Trashy Books: 43,287
Romantic Times Book Review: 46,588 (magazine subscribers are I think 400k, but I’m working from addled memory)
All About Romance: 40,124
Fiction Vixen: 56,121
Joyfully Jay: 422,033
Reviews by Jessewave: 317,480
The Armchair Reader (Cole Riann): 671,619
I didn’t list Elisa Rolle only because somehow she’s reading as in the 5,000s or is #13, depending on if I use her Dreamwidth or LJ and this page is a redirect to her others—I think that must be reading the blog host sites itself. Either that or Elisa, you need to charge for ads and quit your day job!
Those last three listings are blogs which describe themselves as m/m romance blogs. I listed three at random, so please forgive me if I did not list yours. I only wanted to give a sampling—feel free to enter your own favorite into the engine. Yes, there’s a spread of 100k points (that’s points, not people) between each one, but when you look at the rest of the blog world, in general one can say these blogs are on par with one another. These scores also fluctuate, and high traffic like a controversial blog post begins to alter the score, though I admit I don’t know by how much. Please feel free to put in my website and blog—they’re pretty low scores, and I’m totally cool with that, as my sites are there to serve my books not be a social hub. Toss your own in there. What the heck. Play around. Alexa is fun.
The point is, there are a lot of people reviewing romance of all flavors. More and more every day, in fact. I have yet to approach a blog that is not exclusively gay romance focused and receive anything but a warm welcome. Some are even excited. MANY find me before I can hunt them down, and that would include USA Today. I suppose somewhere there is a very conservative website or two that doesn’t want any gay cooties. That’s fine—I really don’t need them, thanks.The people who also want a narrow, focused selection of books can go there, and I hope they and the site owners are very happy together.
Any implication that blogs identifying themselves as m/m only are the only way to get reviews if one writes gay romantic protagonists is horse crap. Do not say, either, that K.A. and I don’t count because we have big names. My second published novel, Special Delivery, was reviewed by Dear Author and Mrs. Giggles. If you don’t know who Mrs. Giggles is, google. A lot of that will be authors angsting about how horrible and mean her reviews are. She reviews EVERYONE and she’s vicious. I found out I had a review because my email and phone blew up from friends freaking out because Mrs. Giggles had loved my book and that almost never happens. I stopped hearing them after “Mrs. Giggles read my book” because I was all flipped out. That was my second book, and it just up and happened. I do not have a magic hoo-ha or magic anything. I wrote my best book and I got lucky with exposure. This means you can do that too. There is no wall to stop you.
There is no wall about reviews, period. Maybe a decade ago. Maybe even five years ago. Not today.
Authors writing books with romantic protagonists can include any flavor of romantic pairings they wish to. I feel kind of silly addressing this, because I feel like I’m the idiot taking an Onion article seriously, but I’m willing to go there just so this is clear. Authors whose romantic protagonists are heterosexual can write side pairings with homosexual on-screen sex. I think you’ll find it’s rare to see, but I do in fact know that it happens. It’s rare not so much because of some cabal but because romance especially in the Big Six market is fiercely competitive and romantic stories with more than one romantic pairing at a time are a hard sell. But gay romance is alive and well in all reading circles, and the big shift to mainstream? It’s coming. The big gay wave is crashing on all manner of shores, even in my little Heartland—anybody thinking the entertainment industry, including books, isn’t trying to figure out a way to capitalize on that right now is kidding herself. Yes, there’s still some resistance, but oh, it’s coming.
Authors whose romantic protagonists are primarily homosexual can also mix and match. It’s called equality and parity and freedom of expression. It is totally okay for a reader or a blog to say, “I only want to read one kind of book.” I stand firmly beside anyone’s right to do this. I think it’s a narrow view, but it’s a valid life choice. Hey, I only read romance. Do what makes you happy. But the authors get the same pass. We can include it or not. We can write heterosexual pairings and homosexual and bisexual and trans* and the whole orgasmical enchilada. Nobody has to read it, but we can write it.
It is not disrespectful of authors to write the stories that they want simply because they are not the stories some people want to hear.
I’m having a hard time responding to this one, because…what else is there to say? The last time I looked, I was not chained to my desk with a penis gun pointed at my head telling me I had to write gay sex and nothing else. That said, I haven’t written any mix-and-match in awhile, but that’s mostly because the Etsey series is hard and the fantasy market is rough, and honestly lately I’ve had so much fun with the college-age gay boys I can’t do anything else. However, if I do write the sequel to A Private Gentleman, yes, readers will either have to endure Penny and Rodger getting together (and probably some additional girls and boys in there too)—or they’ll have to not buy that one. If I write the book with a bisexual man in it, yes, you might have to see some pussy. Or not read that one.
And it’s okay to get mad at me for this, but I’m not putting a warning on any book that says “gots pussy in it.” Ever.
I’ve had publishers that require stringent warnings, and while I’m not a fan, I don’t fight it because there are other fights to have. I REALLY hate Loose Id’s “situations that some readers might find objectionable: male/male sexual practices,” and I’ve wondered a lot if I should have fought for that one to be removed. But not even in the books with heterosexual sex or lesbian sex (Yeah, I did that!) are there warnings about cross-pollination. Because I don’t believe it’s necessary. I believe it’s sexist and crass and bad for our culture. I believe it fosters ghettos and sexism and homophobia and heterophobia or whatever. It’s not good in my book. If you disagree with me, its’ okay to disagree with me. You can disagree with me and still read my books or disagree so much you can’t go there anymore. Your right, your choice.
I will not, though, sit by and have this nonsense tossed around about how you can’t get reviewed if you mix orientations in your book. I mean, obviously this ignores ENTIRELY the whole menage subset, but I know they weren’t meant to be included. This is about somehow all authors of romantic stories with gay male protagonists wearing invisible shackles or being bound by some ritual code. This is ghettoization. This is false truth, false barriers, false reality.
I am not interested in a ghetto where I can only write one thing and am bound by one review site and one set of rules. Holy crap, I started writing gay protagonists because I wanted out of all those goddamned rigid structures. I write romances. The lovers happen to be gay men almost all the time. I don’t write that way because I have to or because of the penis gun. I do it because for whatever fucking reason it makes me happy. I mean, happy, so much so that when my shoulders ache and my neck literally has me seeing double and I can’t walk because my leg has a weird cramp and half of it is numb because my body is an unholy hot mess even on a good day—I write through that not because I have to but because it brings me great joy to do so. I write for people who want to read those stories. I’ve written all over the map, and I assume (in fact, I know) people don’t read the whole oeuvre. Well, some do, but most pick and choose. I’m so down with this in my website redo (not up yet, don’t go look) I’ve included a design feature so one can filter by series and subgenre.
It’s not disrespectful if sometimes I write about two girls kissing or a girl who was born a boy kissing a boy or a girl or both at once. Or if this roommate in the new book doesn’t end up with the girl I’m thinking he might and I decide I want to write him hooking up in his own story—if I do, it’s not disrespectful of me to do that. It isn’t if anybody does it.
It’s okay, though, to get frustrated if you clearly state that your blog only does one kind of book and people don’t follow the rules and submit others. It’s even okay to rant about it on your own blog. Your space. Do what you want.
It’s not okay to intimate to budding authors looking for intel that the other reviewers won’t play nice with them because the write gay, and it’s not cool to imply there are rules. There aren’t. Please pass it on.
I write romance with gay male protagonists.
When I describe what I write to people, I tell them I write romance. If they ask what kind or get interested, I tell them about it, and as a part of that I do explain that I write almost exclusively gay male romantic leads and protagonists. Why do I not lead by saying I write m/m romance? Because I am not different. Because I am not a separate category. I write contemporary romances. I write historical romances and fantasy novels and paranormal romances. I write erotic romances and sweet romances. (No seriously, this one will be sweet. Ish.) I am proud that my heroes are gay, but I am so proud of them that I want them to be compared right alongside all the other couples. I want romance equality up and down. I do not intend to stand along the side of the market and hope people come out and play. I am in that market. I work my ta-tas off in that market. I want readers of all types to come and read my work. Readers who only want to read gay male romantic protagonists are very welcome—90% of the time that’s me too. Nothing else quite satisfies. But yes, I want people who are the reverse to read me too, who only read some gay romance. I would say I want Big Six publishers to pick up gay romantic protagonists, but that has already happened.* The Big Six are very interested in gay romances. Mainstream reviewers are interested in gay romances.
I don’t mind the m/m label–unless m/m is going to start coming with rules and restrictions. If m/m is something limiting, if it is separate from the mainstream, that’s not what I write. If m/m is something that can’t play in the big kids pool, that’s not what I write.
I write romances. I write love stories. I write often very sexy and graphic love stories that take trucker fantasies and make them erotic and sweet at the same time. I write about fisting cowboys and have you emailing me through tears to tell me I wrecked you, it was so sweet and wonderful. I write from my heart and my toes and my eyeballs and anything else I can find to pour in. I write romances because I love them so much I cry when I think about my favorites.
There are no gay ghettos in romance except for the ones we make. There are no rules about what we can and cannot write. There are not walls on where we are reviewed. There is no ceiling on how high we can go—not unless we let ourselves or others put it there. Nothing is stopping me (or you) from being a New York Times bestseller that isn’t stopping a million other authors. Absolutely it’s not because my boys are gay. Is the climb up my professional sometimes a little harder, the road a little weirder? Yeah. But baby, that only makes it sweeter when victory happens.
No ghettos. No rules. Just you and me and our kindles and nooks and paperbacks and good times.
And occasionally pussy.